SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that an Elkhart high school’s Christmas program last year didn’t violate Constitutional prohibitions against the endorsement of religion by public entities.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued Concord schools last October, saying Concord High School’s annual “Christmas Spectacular” violated the U.S. Constitution by endorsing Christianity. The nonprofits represented a student, his father and two other parents in the suit.
U.S. District Court Judge Jon DeGuilio of South Bend ruled Wednesday that the 2015 program “bore little resemblance to the religious presentations of previous years.”
DeGuilio didn’t rule on claims related to the 2014 program or another proposed version of the show. Instead, he called for a briefing as to whether those claims remain and what solution may be appropriate.
The judge noted in his decision that the 2015 school program included descriptions of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa as well as Christmas. He said the additions conveyed a message of education and inclusion by observing holidays celebrated by various religions and cultures rather than endorsing any particular beliefs.
One of the most notable differences in the 2015 performance was the use of mannequins to depict the Nativity scene instead of live performers. Attorneys representing Concord schools had argued that those and other changes addressed the plaintiffs’ concerns and that the program should be able to continue as restructured.
The ACLU and FFRF expressed disappointment over the ruling in a press release. The groups didn’t say whether or not they will seek an appeal in the case.